what your donors want: authenticity

Forget fake. Get rid of the pontifications. Skip the corporate-speak. Ditch everything that isn’t real. If you aren’t thinking about what your donors want, then you’re skipping a key component in your overall fundraising strategy. We’ve already discussed that your donors crave experience and transformation.

Now let’s talk authenticity.

I was on a conference call a few weeks ago. One of the participants was clearly a sharp, technologically savvy woman. She knew her stuff. She has a great idea, and I believe it has a great future. But I couldn’t wade through all the techno-babble and strategy-speak. She lost me completely because she wasn’t speaking “real”.

That started me thinking about how often charities and ministries do their versions of the same thing. They do “corporate-ministry speak” rather than real.

Here’s a pretty crazy idea in the fundraising world: be yourself. Let your donors get to know the Executive Director. Let your donors hear about your leader’s passion. Let the person behind the title shine. Donors want to experience the emotions with you. The point isn’t to fill your appeal letters or newsletters with raw, unfiltered blabbing. The point is to use all the channels at your fingertips. Blog about your passions! Let your Facebook status actually show how you’re feeling and what you’re doing. You have so many tools available, use them to help your donors (and prospective donors) learn about you and your organization.

Tell them how you’re changing lives. And tell them how you know lives are being changed. Or better yet, show them how you’re changing lives. Or even better yet, quote someone who’s life you changed (with a photo!). Your donors want to know the people they are changing or helping. Don’t get in the way of that story. Don’t get in the way of the reality.

Your donors also want to know you. They want to know the ups and downs of your ministry. When things don’t go the way you’ve planned, find a way to talk about it. You don’t have to tell them every detail. And you certainly don’t want to tell them details that will breach their trust, but you can probably tell your donors far more about what happens than you are. Don’t tell the reality specifically to raise money, donors spot that for what it is: bad fundraising. But don’t be afraid of being real and deliver it with a side-order of nitty gritty.

Your donors are hearing from other charities with perfectly sanitized communications. Mostly those are: no reality. no rawness. no scuff marks. You can’t afford to look, sound and be like all of those other guys. I need to say that authentic isn’t sloppy or inaccurate. Authentic is real, not dumb.

Take a chance. Be real.

So what do you think? Do you know any NPOs who do a good job of authenticity? What’s your key strategy for realness?
Talk to me.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: prudencebrown121)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

10 thoughts on “what your donors want: authenticity”

  1. Excellent! I would also say that along with saying how you are changing lives, and giving examples, I would go into how the changes in those lives are changing me, affecting me, and making me want to continue to struggle to be an agent of change.

    Excellent, Excellent.


  2. Every time I’ve had the privilege of interacting with Sylvia Anderson, I’ve been blown away by how comfortable she seems being herself and telling it like it is… whether she’s inviting people to join the cause, or she’s helping people understand the realities of homelessness, she’s always herself. It never fails to make a build a strong connection with those listening.

  3. Excellent points. But you take for granted the fundamental thing that makes it work – that the Executive Director (or any of the upper level employees) are fully emotionally invested in the NPO’s mission.

    Far too often in smaller NPO’s I see Executive Directors who are simply marking time until they can move on to larger organizations.

  4. @Brad– love the idea of connecting change to the individual donor. Right on. That kind of relationship is magical and will bind a donor to the organization forever (maybe eternally).

  5. @Stacey–you’re talking about Sylvia Anderson, the CEO of Everett Gospel Mission (egmission.org)! Couldn’t agree more. Her passion and spark are contagious. She does authentic really well. (Full disclosure, EGM is a Oneicity client).

  6. @Jana– whoa, that’s a tough issue. I was taking for granted the emotional investment you describe. I certainly have seen the marking time syndrome and it is hard to watch.
    I wasn’t going to say this in this blog post but since you bring it up, I have often wondered if donors can sniff out the lack of emotional fire…and therefore give with less passion (and money).
    Interesting. Thanks for the insight and comments. We’re glad you dropped by.

  7. A while back, while on the Board of Canby Grove Conference Center in Oregon, I knew that if we could only transport Keith Johnson, our Executive Director into someone’s living room, we would gain a friend and a supporter. Keith didn’t always paint a rosy picture. He told the truth of how ministry happens in the trenches, often without funding, often of the backs of the staff. Keith’s transparency made us many friends. And those new friends meant prayer and money to follow. The problem is that there was only so much Keith and TOO MUCH opportunity! Now, when Social Media is making messaging more democratic, accessible and doable, we can encourage our EDs, senior staff, junior staff, volunteers and board members to jump on board. They can now show up in dozens, hundred, or thousands of living rooms and share their passions, their concerns and the reality of service. Our people can build relationships, which can become friendships, which can lead to prayer and money. Both darn handy most of the time.

  8. @Al–What a great thing to say about an ED, Keith must be a great guy. You’re so right about showing up in all those living rooms through social media. And you are great at using social media to project and present yourself. I’m always learning from you. Thanks for your insights and sharing.

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